The importance of veterinary dental care cannot be overstated. Neglecting to care for your pet’s teeth can result in problems and higher costs later.
Dental disease is incredibly common among cats and dogs. The American Veterinary Dental College estimates that by age 3, most dogs and cats have developed evidence of periodontal disease (gingivitis and the loss of bone and soft tissue around the teeth).
During a general veterinary checkup, your vet should include an examination of your pet’s mouth. From there your vet can determine if you should consider a pet dental cleaning.
Why Pets Need Dental Cleanings
Poor oral hygiene causes more than just bad breath. When plaque on teeth isn’t removed regularly, it turns into hard tartar. Both plaque and tartar irritate the gums and can result in infection. While plaque can be brushed off at home, tartar requires veterinary attention.
As conditions worsen, an animal can suffer from oral pain, abscesses, gum separation, loss of bone that supports the teeth and tooth loss. Bacteria originating in the mouth can travel into the bloodstream and inflict damage on the pet’s kidneys, heart and other organs.
Signs Your Pet Needs a Dental Cleaning
Signs that your pet might need a veterinary dental cleaning include:
- Bad breath
- Poor appetite (due to oral pain)
- Discolored teeth
- Receding and/or bleeding gums
- Sneezing and nasal discharge (from an abscess that breaks into the nasal passages)
- Loose or missing teeth
What Does a Pet Dental Cleaning Entail?
If your pet would benefit from a dental cleaning, your vet likely will suggest doing some lab tests. These tests ensure your pet can safely undergo the anesthesia necessary to thoroughly clean his teeth.
During the dental cleaning itself, your vet will remove plaque and tartar build-up from all surfaces of your pet’s teeth. The area underneath the gum line also will be cleaned, which is necessary to reduce gum inflammation (gingivitis).
Once his teeth have been scaled, they will be polished to make it more difficult for plaque to redevelop. Your pet’s teeth also might be treated with fluoride or products formulated to slow the return of plaque and tartar.
Other procedures might be necessary depending on the health of your pet’s mouth.
Keeping Your Pet’s Teeth Clean at Home
Since veterinary dental treatments require general anesthesia and can be costly, it’s smart to practice good pet dental care at home. Here are several ways to keep your pet’s teeth clean at home:
- Daily brushing. Using a dog or cat toothbrush is the best way to prevent plaque build-up. A brush with a small head and soft bristles, such as the Virbac C.E.T. pet toothbrush, will make the process more comfortable for your pet.
Select a pet-friendly, fluoride-free toothpaste for brushing your pet’s teeth. In addition to being safe for your pet since he’ll swallow the toothpaste, they come in flavors that pets find enticing, such as Sentry Petrodex Veterinary Strength Enzymatic poultry flavor dog toothpaste or Sentry Petrodex Veterinary Strength Natural peanut flavor dog toothpaste.
- Finger brushes. If your pet won’t tolerate a toothbrush, you can use a finger brush, like the Pet Republique dog and cat finger toothbrush. These rubbery brushes slide over the top of your finger and can be used with regular pet toothpaste.
- Water additives. While not a replacement for brushing, water additives are a great addition to any dental program. Additives help kill bacteria and promote a clean, healthy mouth. Products like Dental Fresh original water additive are scent- and taste-free, which can be particularly handy for sensitive cats.
- Dental chews and treats. Tasty treats are a clever way to trick your pet into cleaning his own teeth. Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets Dental Chewz dog treats are high protein and low fat, making them ideal for regular consumption. If your dog is gluten-intolerant, try WHIMZEES Stix dental dog treats.
- Dental diets. If your pet is very susceptible to dental issues, your vet might suggest a prescription diet formulated to promote dental health. These can be a good option for cats or dogs who are resistant to more common dental care techniques.
If you have a cat, you might be reading this list with some unease. It’s true that cats often are less willing than dogs to get on board with a dental care regimen. If your cat is being resistant, try a product designed to win them over. The Petrodex Veterinary Strength Malt toothpaste cat dental care kit, for example, provides a toothpaste with a feline-friendly malt flavor (no rinse required).
Arming yourself with these resources will reduce the risk of serious dental issues, and if dental disease develops, it can be treated easily when caught early. Taking your pet to the vet for regular check-ups is the best way to set him up for solid, lifelong dental health.
Dr. Jennifer Coates was valedictorian of her graduating class at the VA-MD Regional College of Veterinary Medicine and has practiced in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado in the years since. She is also the author of numerous articles, short stories, and books, including the “Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian.” She lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, children, dog (Apollo), and cat (Minerva).
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